Adam and Jesse and I started playing music together in junior high, under the sway of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and their ilk. We generally played in Jesse’s garage in Malibu or David Richman’s basement in Brentwood. A few players came and went, most notably Adam Salzman, Amy Wood, and Jesse Nicita, until finally we scored Ryan Dusick as our drummer in 1994 and the unfortunately-monikered Kara’s Flowers was born. We considered Ryan’s membership quite a coup, as he was older by a couple years and one of the best musicians at our school. Ryan had also been writing music, and his collaborations with Adam made up the core of our material at the time, which is best described as “heavy” and “brooding”. The lyrics could be characterized as “nonsense”. After a year or so of this, our tastes were changing, as they so often do at that tender age, and we entered a phase of massive, obsessive Beatlemania that culminated in some ill-advised matching suits and big, bright pop songs with loud guitars. These are the songs that got us signed to Warner Brothers and to a fancy Hollywood management company. We made a record, hemorrhaged money, went on a couple really weird tours, and sold about a thousand records.
The following couple years were spent regrouping, reshuffling, writing songs in the vein of “classic rock” and folk, and coming dangerously close to throwing in the towel. Adam and Jesse went on their Long Island adventure, driving cross-country at a breakneck pace and spending a semester at Five Towns College, purportedly studying music but mostly coming up with colorful nicknames for their classmates and listening to soul, gospel, R & B, and hip-hop. So, in fine Kara’s Flowers fashion, we abandoned the songs that we’d been playing for the prior year and started fresh upon Adam and Jesse’s return. Around this time the songs that ended up on Songs About Jane began to be written, and over the following year or so we’d written about half the record and recorded the demos that eventually got us signed yet again, this time to a plucky young upstart label called Octone, which was attached to the plucky young upstart behemoth J Records, which was in turn attached to the not-so-young, leviathan, venerated BMG. James had moved from Nebraska to LA around the time that we recorded those demos, and we met him and his bandmates in Square through mutual friends. So when we needed a guitar tech for those sessions, we called in James for his expertise in string-changing and guitar-tuning. When we needed another guitarist, as Jesse was making the transition from six strings to eighty-eight, we called in James for his expertise at actually playing the guitar. With the addition of a new member and a fresh spate of songwriting, we changed our name to Maroon 5 to solidify the feeling that we were beginning anew. As to the origin of the name, it’s a secret, and aside from the five of us only Billy Joel knows its provenance (true story).
We then wrote Songs About Jane, recorded it in LA with Matt Wallace producing and Mike Landolt engineering, ate a lot of fast food and a lot of prescription speed, finished the record, totally thought we’d missed the mark, put it out, played a release party at Tower Records Sunset (R.I.P.) on January 25, 2002, went on tour, had a blast, played Starkville, MI a few times, reconfigured the seating in vans to accommodate us more comfortably, traveled in one very inhospitable RV that smelt of piss, looked in awe upon our first bus, met the Boss and Jay-Z within five minutes of each other, went platinum on our tenth anniversary as a band, kept touring, won a Grammy (!), made a lot of friends along the way, wrote a new song here and there, won another Grammy (wtf), opened for the Stones, saw a lot of the western world and a bit of the eastern, and toured some more. Sadly, the accumulated physical strain the travel and the shows really did a number on Ryan, and he hurt his arm so badly that he had to stop performing. For some time, we imagined this to be temporary, but the months came and and went and no reasonable diagnosis was made as to his ailment. Matt Flynn came in at the last minute and saved our asses in a time of need, having, over the course of a couple nights, learned the drum parts on our record inside and out. He ended up touring with us until we finally hung up our “on-the-road” boots and put on the recording ones. After a year and a half playing with Matt, and with Ryan’s condition still hindering him, we faced the most brutal decision we had yet to encounter. So we moved into a new phase with Matt officially in the band, and thankfully he, by being a monstrously great player and a generally great guy, made the transition much easier for us than it could have been.
After taking about a month off following our last few shows, we moved into the Houdini mansion in Laurel Canyon to write our next record. James and Jesse actually lived in the house, as the rest of us came and went daily, recording jams, building songs, and releasing the pent-up creativity that had amassed over years of playing the same batch of songs nightly. Jason Lader, an old friend who had engineered the demos of This Love and Harder to Breathe, was our comrade and co-producer on these sessions. That house has a few claims to fame, most notably that it is “haunted”, that it was home to the sessions for Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and that the board in the control room is the hallowed Hit Factory board on which Songs in the Key of Life, Born in the USA, Double Fantasy, and Emotional Rescue were recorded (along with countless other classics). The bulk of what would become our second record was written and demoed over the few months that we worked in Laurel Canyon. We began to cast about for producers, and after consideration we assembled the team of Mike Elizondo and “Spike” Stent, two totally brilliant guys who happen to be a pleasure to work with too. (By the way, if you look closely at the string section during the G’n’R performance of “November Rain” at the ‘92 VMA’s, you’ll see a 19 year old Elizondo playing double bass.) We spent a couple months at Conway Studios, a sentimental favorite of ours (and home to those sessions that got us signed to Octone), where we recorded the bulk of the record. After a short break, we regrouped in Burbank and finished phase one of the recording. For a few months, we sat with what we had recorded thus far, listening ad nauseum and eventually realizing that there were a few musical loose ends to be tied up. so we went in for two additional sessions, with Eric Valentine and Mark Endert, respectively, for fresh perspectives and fresh ears. Those sessions yielded “Can’t Stop”, “Makes Me Wonder”, “A Little of Your Time”, and “Back at Your Door”, along with some other odds and ends applied to previously recorded songs. The whole of the three distinct sessions became It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, and even before the release of the record (in May 2007), our touring life had kicked back into gear all over again.
We spent almost two years on the road in support of the album. In 2008, we visited every continent on the globe barring Antarctica; we played in dozens of cities that hadn’t been on the SAJ tour itinerary, such as Capetown, Manila, Seoul, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Bordeaux, and Moscow (to list a mere handful of favorites). Following that particularly mind-bending year of travel, we regrouped in Los Feliz, east of Hollywood, to spend some much needed time at home writing and attempting some semblance of domesticity and normality. Just as some new songs were starting to take shape, it came to our attention that Mutt Lange had expressed some interest in meeting us and discussing a possible collaboration. After the initial round of pinching ourselves out of sheer disbelief and googling Mr. Lange’s name to marvel at his unparalleled track record of musical success extending far beyond the boundaries of genre and era, we were lucky enough to sit down with the man himself in an informal meeting. Having heard the myriad stories of Mutt’s obsessive attention to detail and exacting perfectionism, and knowing just how fiercely he has protected his privacy over the years in order to maintain an essentially non-existent public image, we were unsure of what (or who) to expect from our meeting and more than a little intrigued. What none of us had anticipated was the extraordinarily warm, affable, low-key guy who arrived, professing an admiration for the band and a very humble desire for genuine collaboration to best realize the songs in recorded form. His kind demeanor only made it easier for us to arrive at the conclusion (essentially a foregone one, from the moment Mutt had expressed interest in producing our music) that he was the man for the job. We decamped to Switzerland and to Mutt’s studio there, where we spent the better part of July, August and September recording the music that has become Hands All Over.
Leaving our hometown to record was one of the better decisions the band has made; we found ourselves working seven day weeks, often up to 12 hours a day, isolated as we were from the outside world. The sheer beauty and pace of our Swiss environs made it easy to clear our heads if we hit a creative wall; in many ways, it is an ideal creative environment (Bowie, Nabokov, Freddie Mercury, Chaplin, and countless other luminaries all spent considerable time in that part of the world, and after spending the summer working there I easily see why). After so much sort of “short-term” traveling, during which we rarely experience a foreign city for more than a day or two at a time, to live in that tiny Swiss town for three months was a genuine privilege. It was also a privilege to work with Mutt and begin to understand why he has been so exceptional; while most producers have one area of expertise or a few areas of focus, Mutt excels as a musician, a singer, an arranger and a writer, yet he devotes as much time to sonic, technical, and engineering concerns as he does to purely musical ones (alongside the indispensable engineer and ProTools operator Olle Romo, the world’s most patient and focused man, as well as being a great musician in his own right).
I can speak for the band, as we find ourselves on the verge of releasing this closely-guarded music to the world, in saying that we are more proud of this record that any other, and as we start to dig into these songs at rehearsals, in anticipation of presenting them live, the excitement grows daily. See you out there.